|District Attorney's Office PIO, Melissa (Zamora) Landin, |
Adorned by Sunflower
"This notion of openness is the foundation for Texas open government laws, and it was the motivation for the enactment of the Public Information Act (PIA) more than four decades ago. The PIA enshrines Texans’ right to access the information that governmental bodies produce—and outlines the process by which the public can request that information and how governmental bodies should respond."
The dearth of information published in the Brownsville Herald about corruption, ineptitude and cronyism within City of Brownsville and Cameron County government only adds value to the Public Information Act as a vehicle to find out what's going on. With this story we will detail some of the public information options Brownsville citizens have used to gain access to information about city and county government.
For years, City Secretary Estela Von Hatten handled Public Information requests expeditiously, although our final request just before her resignation to ascertain the usage of the $11,296 left over from the $48,986.98 of taxpayer, ratepayer and Tourist Bureau monies spent on Tony Martinez' 2013 State of the City event went unfulfilled. We suspect our arrogant mayor simply ignored the request. The Brownsville Herald did report his last comments on that eleven thousand dollar balance:
As we've reported on this blog, new City Secretary Michael L. Lopez has been equally gracious so far in responding to public information requests. An excerpt from our MMB story in May:
|Drue Brown, BISD Public|
Drue Brown, BISD's Public Information Officer, has responded to all our requests. Typically, we've received a hard copy answer within ten business days in the form of a letter from BISD Attorney Miguel Salinas.
One request, for the two reports on three BISD bus fires, was denied, but just days after we forwarded a copy of our challenge to the Attorney General Greg Abbott, we received copies of the report.
Salinas did not even wait for the AG's opinion.
Below is a copy of our letter to the Texas Attorney General:
Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Texas Attorney General
300 W. 15th Street
Austin, TX 78701
Dear General Abbott:
My Public Information Request to the Brownsville Independent School District No. 7630 has been forwarded to your office for a ruling.
My request was to receive copies of two reports regarding the cause or causes of two BISD school bus fires within a single week in October 2013 involving 30 and 29 students respectively. One report was prepared by an independent team hired by theInternational Corporation, Navistar, the manufacturer of the buses involved. The other report was prepared by an independent inspector or inspection team hired by BISD.
Ten business days after my request I received a letter from BISD Staff Attorney Miguel Salinas informing me of that an Attorney General opinion was being sought. Fifteen business days after my request I received a letter citing the Litigation Exception from the Texas Government Code as a suggested basis for not granting my request.
In the DISCUSSION section of the second letter dated June 18, 2014, Staff Attorney Salinas mentions the two October fires and yet another fire, April 10, 2013. Then Salinas states: "First, Litigation had been contemplated since the November 2014 draft report(I assume he meant November 2013) was received and long before the subject request of May 29, 2014. Secondly the information at issue is intricately and specifically linked to the contemplated litigation."
With all due respect, "contemplated litigation" could be used to deny every single Public Information Request. Obviously, no litigation has actually been initiated, not with regard to the two October 2013 school bus fires, not the earlier April 2013 fire. BISD has released no information reassuring parents or taxpayers that correction action has been taken to prevent recurrence.
A few days after sending the above letter, we received certified mail from BISD Attorney Miguel Salinas with a cover letter stating that BISD had withdrawn their challenge to our Public Information Request and copies of the two reports.
|Former City of Brownsville Public Information|
Officer, Patty Gonzalez
Accidentally, we learned about a change in the way information was dispensed by the City of Brownsville. We were in the former office of Heritage Officer/Downtown Director/Movie Guru Peter Goodman. Peter hinted at some prospective developments with the old Stegman Building on East 11th Street. When I asked a few questions, he picked up the phone and dialed someone in the city, then came back to me in conversation.
"Jim, we have a new policy," Peter stated. "From now on all information on city projects comes through our new Public Information Officer, Patty Gonzalez. Here is her number."
That was the first I'd heard about Gonzalez, although I did call her number a couple times after that. Her actual role as a spinmeister became very obvious before the hearing at Tony Gonzalez Park about the proposed sale of Lincoln Park. Young Ms. Gonzalez totally twisted the legal necessity of the public hearing from "whether or not to sell Lincoln Park" into "what amenities would you like to see in the new, relocated Lincoln Park?" Admittedly, that was not her idea. Yet, it was a total sham, nearly as much so as Commissioner Rick Longoria's narration of a not-so-slick video detailing P.U.B.'s odor control capabilities that would be utilized on the new Lincoln Park adjacent to a sewer treatment plant. Both efforts stunk to high heaven. Gonzalez has since moved on. Unfortunately, Rick is still with us. Lol!
Like his predecessor, Armando Villalobos, District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, felt the need for someone to chronicle his accomplishments and goals, hiring former City Commissioner Melissa (Zamora) Landin. Press releases, written by Landin, were sent to media sources within and outside Cameron County. Our request to be included in that list was met by the stiff upper arm of Saenz/Landin. Here is the response to our request:
It is the policy of the DA’s Office to not include bloggers on the official media distribution list. However, all press released are available to the public via the DA Web site which are immediately posted upon distribution. I re-designed the DA Web site early last year to make it user-friendly. Prior to January 2013, press releases were not posted and much of the information now available on our Web site was unavailable.
Below is a list of media outlets I e-mail press releases to:
The Brownsville Herald
The Valley Morning Star
San Benito News
La Feria News
Los Fresnos News
Rio Hondo News
Port Isabel Press
The Raymondville Chronicle
San Antonio Express News
The Associate Press
Periodico El Manana
KVEO News Center 23
Ch. 4 (CBS)
Ch. 5 (ABC)
My Leader News
My Harlingen News
Rio Grande Guardian
Public Information Officer/Special Projects
Cameron County District Attorney’s Office
District Attorney Luis V. Saenz
What was especially interesting about young Ms. Landin's explanation is that, while she claims that "bloggers" are not included in the official media distribution list, she includes two Harlingen blogs, My Leader News and My Harlingen News, written by Jerry Deal and Tony Chapa respectively. It's not that the "press releases" written by Ms. Landin would be of any substance, but it's simply nauseating and juvenile that the Saenz office would seek to control the flow of information in that way.